With a shared pre-partition history, cultural commonalities, geographical contiguity and a predominance of economic impoverishment, nothing can be as cementing to Indo-Pak ties as films. Indian films have been banned in Pakistan since the Indo-Pak war of 1965. This 41-year gap in cultural revivalism has deprived Pakistani audiences of classic Indian blockbusters such as Sholay.
Gen Zia-ul-Haq permitted a special screening of Noor Jahan in 1981 and Kashish in 1982. Though the ban is still in place Gen. Musharraf made an exception after Akbar Asif presented him a print of Mughal-e-Azam in 2004. The revenues generated by the film were donated to the earthquake victims of Pakistan. “When you need help for the welfare of people you take important decisions,” said Zia-ud-Din Khattak chairman of the Film Censors of Pakistan. Other Indian films that have been screened in Pakistan include Gurinder Chaddha’s Bride and Prejudice, Sohini Mahiwal and Taj Mahal.
Indian films have, however, made their presence felt in Pakistan thanks to cable operators and private TV channels. Many in Pakistan’s film industry feel this has had an adverse impact on local cinema. But Indo-Pak joint productions would usher in an era of prosperity for the cash-starved Pakistan film industry. With state-of-art technology, Indian film makers will make Pakistan upgrade its quality. It will undoubtedly help the Indian film industry as well. Some in Pakistan feel films can bring the peoples of the two nations closer, even more than cricket.
Humayun Saeed is to Pakistan what Shahrukh Khan is to Bollywood. This award-winning 35-year-old Pakistani actor’s dance along with Khan at a Zee Film Awards function stunned the audience. It is the wish of many that more such events take place. Bollywood’s music, films and theatrics hold fascination for the youth. The best example is the Pakistani rock band Junoon , even though it came under severe attack from the Shiv Sena and some conservative groups in Pakistan. Adnan Sami, the Pakistani singer, has taken India by storm. Pakistani actress Meera became a sensation for her role in the first Indo-Pak joint production Nazar.
As a regular watcher of Pakistani TV soap, I can vouch that their literary content, histrionics and presentation is as good, if not better than what one watches on Indian channels. Pakistanis living overseas can access many good Indian soaps on Zee TV. Private cable operators in Pakistan regularly telecast popular Indian serials. Collaboration in films will engender an environment congenial to checking piracy and clandestine screening. This will generate additional revenue for both nations. Such funds are being eaten away by the parallel economy.
India’s encouragement of cross-border cultural exchange and people-to-people contact has not only endorsement, but also positive support from Bollywood—including film producers such as Mahesh Bhatt, Ram Gopal Verma, Yash Chopra and Mani Ratnam. Pakistan is geared up to reciprocate as well. A Pakistani delegation that visited Mumbai some time ago felt that joint production of Punjabi films would be a hit in both countries. Last year, an Indian delegation led by the then tourism minister Ambika Soni, including Mahesh Bhatt, Sanjay Khan and Rekha, attempted to hasten the pace of cooperation. “It’s time for new beginnings,” says actor and producer Sanjay Khan.
Nothing can be more pleasing to the people of the subcontinent if cultural barriers of yesteryears are sought to be broken down thus. Waiting in store is cultural revivalism that will enrich both nations commercially as well.
V.B.N. Ram is a commentator on India-Pak relations. Write to us at email@example.com